Welcome to my winter wonderland. After two years, my brolly wants to become a parachute, lured by the attraction of stormy weather, when autumn’s golden leaves slowly dance, passing the baton on to pretty bare branches and gusts of snow.
When a stroll on the street has you trading whispers in the wind and flocks of birds play hide and seek in the mist, you know winter is here with its white and chiffon grey skies.
The birds dare me to find them but I don’t. I must admit that living in the Netherlands with its distinct seasons is one of the greatest pleasures of our expat experience.
As are fresh hazelnuts. Yes, hazelnuts. I must admit I was SHOCKED to see them at Sligro, still in green cloaks and hard shells for I’d never thought of hazelnuts as coming from trees! It’s silly, isn’t it that we often forget about the many lives food, ingredients and produce have lived before they land on our plates. Before I bought them fresh, my prior hazelnut purchase came in a packet, naked and rid of the slight-bitter brown skins, far removed from their days hanging as twins or triplets off brown branches. Further investigation reveals that these are cobnuts, a cultivated variety of the hazel/filbert, sold fresh and are not semi-dried.
It makes me think of currants and raisins, dry, shriveled and deeply coloured. The occasional stalk in the pack triggers the memory of sun-dried grapes, and one fleetingly makes the link, from vine to plate. Almonds I know and associate with fruit trees – I remember as a child eating a ‘native’ variety of a fruit which housed in its stone, fresh juicy almondesque nuts.
Once I roused myself from my sleepy naiveté and got about exploring the nuts, I was pleasantly surprised to find them young and soft, a hint of crispness in the somewhat chewy, creamy-milky flavored flesh with speckled brown skin that slipped off with ease. The pointed shape of this fresh nut is different from the older, drier variety which I think makes a mean companion to chocolate.
The name ‘cobnut’ goes back many centuries, according to this article in the Telegraph. In those days, ‘To cob’ meant to throw gently, and children used to play a game in Tudor times called coblenut or cobnut. Several piles of nuts were formed and with your “cob”, or largest nut, you tried to knock them down. The ones displaced from the piles became your property – a precursor to bowling and other such games one might also say.
These youthful nuts are heralds of autumn, alongside apples, pears and squashes. Alas, this woman (me) was traveling for weeks while they languished in the cool section of my refrigerator. By the time I took to exploring them, the fresh green covers had take on some brown speckles but still their shells held them fresh. I stripped off the skins to find soft, light-tipped nuts with lower brown halves. A trip to the nut cracker and the nuts returned whole but shellless. A bite into one and the soft, white flesh of the nut was exposed, the texture reminiscent of young coconuts and the taste too. And though I wasn’t so sure about these young uns, the sheer joy of being forced to think outside of the box, to learn something new, to reach a new level of consciousness; the chance to think in depth about nuts was something I wanted to simply celebrate. And so I decided to combine them in an autumn –winter cake.
I love this cake, but most of all I thoroughly enjoyed baking them in dariole moulds which yielded quite sophisticated-looking bakes. The resulting cakes have an outer crust, perfect for crust lovers and is full of inner melting moments. Perfect when all the leaves around you are fallen and snow-lined paths cushion winter’s frost & bite.
Apple and hazelnut cake
IngredientsFor the stewed apples 1 apple 1/3 cup fresh (cloudy) apple juice 1-2 tablespoons of Calvados/wine/brandy (or other liqueur) 3 tablespoons caster sugar 1/3 cup crushed hazelnuts For the cake batter
60ml vegetable oil 75ml vanilla yogurt 2 eggs 90g white caster sugar 100g plain flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder Pinch of salt 4 tablespoons hazelnut meal (or almond meal) 1/3 cup skinned hazelnuts, crushed but not overly fine 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
First make stewed apples: This part of the recipe can be made up to 2 days ahead. Place apple juice and sugar and boil on high for 3-4 of minutes till reduced a touch, then add apples and simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes, till soft but still holding shape. Remove from heat and stir in Calvados, to taste or other liquer. Set aside.
To make the cake: Butter 6 dariole moulds or a 20cm diameter tart tin and then sprinkle with crushed hazelnuts till a coating is formed on the base and sides of the containers.
Preheat the oven to 180 deg c.
In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients, whisking together to combine. Whisk the wet ingredients to combine as well in a separate bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour the wet mix into the well and gently stir to combine with a spatula, ensuring you mix the ingredients from the base up, till well combined.
Leave to cool in the moulds, placed on a rack for about 10 minutes. Then gently tip out to and serve. If not eating immediately, place in a large container with a lid. The cakes will keep for a couple of days.
To serve accompany with warm vanilla custard and some warm apple cider to go.
Sinterklaas comes tonight to all the good children in the Netherlands, on his horse, riding in the snowy skies across rooftops and chimneys. On ‘pakjesavond’ (present’s evening, which is tonight), kids get the final gifts in a series of presents that they have received since he came to the Netherlands a few weeks ago from his castle in Spain! Why he would leave warm climes, churros and sangria to visit us here, no one knows!
Our three kids, orchestrated by us got a makeup kit, a safe and a writing board respectively – sinterklaas looked through his big, red book and saw they’d been good the whole year round. Phew, I can go rest now till Christmas!
LOL and have a blessed week ahead!